More cycling needs more secure bike storage

If we want more people to ride bikes, then we need to give them a safe place to park and store those bikes.

Bike ownership in the UK stands at about 42% as of 2018, according to the result of the National Travel Survey, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus has lead to a further jump in this figure as people opt for a form of transport that’s self-sufficient, offers very low running costs and allows for minimal close contact with others.

Follow Twitter, however, and you’ll also see many people — often healthcare workers — asking for help as their bike, their main mode of transport, has been stolen.

This isn’t a new situation, with crime statistics suggesting that 2% of bicycle-owning households had been a victim of theft according to crime surveys of England and Wales up to 2017, though that doesn’t indicate the total number of bikes stolen.

While there isn’t hard evidence to suggest that this type of crime has increased during the outbreak, this could be due to a lag in reporting or it may simply be that we’re more aware of the crime since it’s affecting frontline and key workers.

What the desperate Tweets and requests for help finding the stolen bike, or asking for one they can borrow to see them through, is how important bicycles can be for their owners, and how much of an impact their theft can have.

Each bicycle represents the main form of transport for a lot of people who are unlikely to have the funds to simply buy a replacement. It also shows how much more needs to be done to provide safer and more secure storage for bicycle owners, both at home and at places of work.

Concern over security is high amongst cyclists, Stolen Ride and London Cycling Campaign found that 55% of cyclists surveyed reported being ‘very concerned’ with the security of their bikes out and about in the capital.

Given that a lack of secure storage, often grouped under a general lack of facilities when research is conducted, is a known barrier to cycling, it seems clear that if we want to encourage more people to take to two wheels, we need to ensure that everyone has a place to keep their bike safe at home and while at work.

The gold standard, as is so often the case when it comes to cycling, is the Netherlands. As of 2012, the Dutch government mandated that new residential buildings must have bicycle storage facilities included. For houses and residential blocks built earlier and without integrated bicycle storage facilities, municipalities have constructed themselves. Called ‘buurtstalingen’ or ‘neighbourhood storage’, spaces are prioritised for people without shed, garage or garden storage space.

The Netherlands is also working with employers to ensure more workplaces have adequate bicycle storage facilities for their staff, and have constructed some of the most impressive large-scale multi-story bikeparks with digital bike parking signage at railways stations and other transport hubs to support multi-modal journeys.

One such example is the vast underground bikepark at Utrecht Station. Open 24hrs a day, it boasts 12,500 spaces with users checking in and out with their transit cards — which helps with security — as well as on-site wardens who add an additional layer of security as well as ensuring parking is orderly.

In the UK, while short-term bike parking has fairly good provision in the form of the inverted U-shaped metal stands, which are ubiquitous on high streets and suburban areas, it does less well with provision for longer term storage.

The European Commission PRESTO (Promoting Cycling for Everyone as a Daily Transport Mode) splits parking into two distinct categories; that which is designed for stops of two hours or less and bike parking for longer durations, such as during the workday and overnight. Each has slightly different requirements.

The U-shaped stands, known in the UK as Sheffield stands, allow a bike to be securely chained, and are usually located in close proximity to the place the rider wants to get to for things like visiting shops, libraries or classes. But these stands are not ideal for leaving a bike for longer periods of time where an additional layer or two of security is required; a determined thief can cut through the most secure of locks given enough time, so reducing access to the bike in the first place, and ensuring supervision either directly or indirectly of the storage area acts as a deterrent and a physical block.

PRESTO recommends several types of secure storage, including;

  • Bike lockers: individually lockable metal storage boxes large enough to fit a bike in. These are often located in areas covered by CCTV cameras, and most often used during the day.
  • Bike cages: Sheffield stands or other stands within a protected metal cage that requires key or code access, and that cannot be climbed into, often also with CCTV coverage.
  • On-street collective lockers: These vary in design but often take the shape of a half-barrel that can be unlocked and lifted to give access to Sheffield stands within. These often have the same footprint as a parked car, and access is via a key or code.

To move towards increased bicycle storage provision, the UK needs to address a number of issues; those of space, impetus and money.

Space is at a premium in the areas where these storage facilities are most urgently needed, usually in areas of high-density housing in urban environments. There have been many studies that make the case for turning on-street parking for cars into space for bicycle storage, not least the fact that the area taken up by one parked car can easily allow for 5 or 6 parked bicycles.

Impetus requires political will, and again the health, environmental and financial case for prioritising cycling has been made time and again.

Finally, the question of money. In the UK, formerly about 2% of spending on transport went to cycling which worked out on average around £7 per person, and that covered everything from construction and maintenance of cycle paths to storage infrastructure of all kinds. However, in the latest budget, £0 were earmarked for cycling specifically, with the £1.02 billion of the increased £27 billion transport budget going instead to ‘green transport solutions’ and that in turn is focussed on electric vehicle charging infrastructure and purchase support.

In contrast, the Netherlands government pledged a total of €552 million in 2018 to spend on cycling infrastructure projects alone.

While there isn’t a lot of information about the storage facilities the bikes we’re seeing taken from frontline workers during the Covid-19 outbreak were stored in, the chances are that more secure storage would mean fewer thefts. And while no bike storage is 100% guaranteed theft-proof, greater access to secure storage at home and at work removes one of the barriers faced in deciding whether or not to cycle to work, and may help more people get on their bikes.